If you look at your life as a class, challenging circumstances you're born into become playground scuffles where character is formed. Mistakes are invitations to try again; failures become your teachers. The point is not to get a good grade or just get by, but to go through the fires and be refined. Through adversity, resilience, determination and confidence are tested and strengthened. Here are the life lessons the masters wouldn't trade—and a chance for you to join the conversation about your own life.
That's all a part of my journey to get to be who I am and where I am.
Oprah says she wouldn't trade her past because it has given her a deep understanding and compassion for others who feel unwanted. Is there an experience from your past, although it may have been painful, that makes you stronger today?
What you do have control over is how you react to whatever happens in your life.
How do you usually react when something happens that is beyond your control? Do you follow your first impulse? Or do you weigh multiple options (and each possible outcome) before doing anything? Which way of responding makes you feel more centered?
It was a brilliant upbringing.
Jay-Z had a tough childhood, but instead of being destroyed by those circumstances, he's grateful for them. Are there lessons you learned from what was difficult in your childhood? No matter how painful they were then, can you appreciate how they made you who you are?
I've learned more from failures than success.
What failure taught Jay-Z is that art isn't a popularity contest and going for success is the wrong intention. If you look at failure as an opportunity to learn something, is there a mistake in your own life that you can reframe as a lesson?
How do we cope with stress? Are there better ways to handle difficult life events? These are the questions that David Creswell, an assistant professor in the psychology department at Carnegie Mellon University, tries to answer. He tells Oprah.com's Jancee Dunn a few things he's learned.
We All Need a Proactive Coping Strategy
The heat of the moment is the wrong time to look for stress relief techniques: "One big lesson that I've taken from the stress management literature is that these are skills that we need to foster and develop every day," says Cresell, "so that when stress does hit, we are a bit more prepared for it."
Any time you give yourself an opportunity to develop a new sense of meaning and a greater sense of control over your life, that's going to help you deal with stress more effectively.
Research suggests proactive coping is useful. "We are going to be ambushed in life," he says, "but what are some things that we might be able to do to mitigate those hard times? Try to foster a good resource network—and not only social resources [including strong relationships], but also financial resources. You want to be able to have the money and the insurance to protect yourself. Even acknowledging that stressors might be on the horizon is an initial step in coping with them."
Staying Calm Is Tough (in His Professional Opinion)
When something's gone horribly wrong, it can be almost impossible to find perspective. "Our automatic, knee-jerk reaction is to protect ourselves," says Creswell. That's a nice way of saying that under stress, our ability to respond from a clear-headed place—and our ability to set aside feelings of grief, anger or pain—evaporates, leaving us at the mercy of our emotions. That's where mindfulness meditation comes in. "It provides a way to begin to examine your experience with detachment, where you observe what's happening without getting caught in the emotional spiral," says Creswell. "Noticing that anger or defensiveness is really a moment of mindfulness."
Minutes Are All It Takes
"One of the nice things about the mindfulness meditation approach to coping is that it's not about pretending like your life is going to be good," says Creswell. "It's about watching what's happening to you right now and not trying to necessarily change it but to acknowledge it fully." Creswell has asked a lot of meditation teachers how much time someone should meditate each day—and has gotten wide-ranging answers. He suggests trying to find 20 minutes a day for a meditation practice. If you can't do that, he says that finding "mindful minutes" throughout the day can be a powerful way to navigate a tough situation.
Mindfulness Meditation Is Just One Tool for Stress Management
"Journaling and expressive writing are important skills," says Creswell. "Exercise seems to be transformative, and any time you give people an opportunity to develop a new sense of meaning and a greater sense of control over their life, that's going to help them deal with stress more effectively. Back in the '70s, there was a beautiful study with nursing home residents. They gave one group a house plant and said, 'This is your responsibility.' What they saw over almost a two-year period was that the residents who were given the plant lived longer."
Have a Tough Decision to Make? Go to Bed
"This is such a fascinating area in science right now," says Creswell. Researchers are discovering that letting our unconscious mull things over can result in better decisions. "It's a really neat set of findings, suggesting that we can trust our brains to continue to process and learn information even while we're doing other things—or sleeping."
Look to What's on the Other Side of Hard Times
"If you ask a lot of people," says Creswell, "most are going to say that it was those times when things were hardest where they learned the most lessons." He believes this speaks to our resilient nature: It's a testament to the idea that hard times provide rich, often emotionally difficult lessons that can lead us to new beginnings.
If you're going through a difficult time, can you approach your situation from a position of curiosity, where you observe what's happening without getting caught in the emotional spiral? You can use this space to journal your thoughts.